Reviewed by Thomas LaHood
There’s been a conversation going on forever in this town and all around the world about critics, reviewers, and what gives them the right to judge a show, what are their credentials, who the hell are they? Are they, like the old adage about those who can and those who can’t just bitter also-rans venting their pent-up frustrations? Are they empiricists? Pseudo-journalists? To whom do their loyalties lie – are they there for the audience, the artists, or themselves? And if they are there for the audience, are they there to speak for the audiences who saw the show or to educate those who didn’t?
Into this swamp of boggy, fartsy questions thunders the meteor of Sherilee Kahui’s Major MTA work The Reviewers: A question within a critique within a process within a play within a play.
It would be so easy to simply mock the stereotypical white male reviewing voice of death and Kahui does this but she also sympathises with it, also lays vulnerable the craft of theatre from every angle. Her company The Wimple Players lampoon the amateur world where everyone muddles along with their diverse and conflicting opinions of what makes for a good show, they also present the worst of pretentious spectacle theatre, performance art, everything is sacred, everything is profane.
There were so many aspects of this production that gave me thrills. That audience members were offered free entry in exchange for a review (of which this is one). That all the little cabaret tables were all different sizes and shapes and had totally perfect chintzy black tablecloths on them. That the white-face dumb-waiters who brought questions to the audience on cue-cards were in fact Sherilee and her MTA classmates. The work was alive with deft little touches that showed that the questions guiding the making of the work were being held with a real thoroughness. The work felt layered and substantial, even as it was messy and chaotic.
I have submitted reviews for Theatreview in my dark past and every now and then I grapple with an urge to add my voice to the forum. I feel really sensitive to questions about the value and integrity of self-elected reviewers. The whole question of subjectivity vs objectivity – which I think Journalism has never adequately tackled – is very confusing. I could ramble on forever about it. But that is so boring. So much of all of the critical response to art is boring. So much art is boring.
Finally, I always find it’s easy to find things wrong with shows that are boring, and to objectively dismantle them. But a show that is intriguing – like this one – invites a bubbly, subjective response. There might be things wrong with it but you can’t be bothered pointing them out, because the work as a whole has provoked a more interesting, bigger discussion. As a reviewer, as an artist, and as an audience member I like best the kind of work that makes me respond with questions, and like least the work that makes me think I know the answers.